What is the first thing I might notice if I have peripheral artery disease?

For many, the first noticeable symptom of PAD is a painful cramping of leg muscles during walking called intermittent claudication.  When a person rests, the cramping goes away.  This leg pain can be severe enough to deter a person from normal walking. Some individuals will not feel cramping or pain but might feel a numbness, weakness or heaviness in the muscles.

What are some other symptoms?

In patients whose PAD is more severe, insufficient blood flow to the feet and legs may cause a burning/aching pain in the feet and toes while resting. The pain will occur particularly at night while lying flat. For more information, visit our section on critical leg ischemia. Other symptoms include

  • Cooling of skin in specific areas of legs or feet
  • Color changes in the skin and loss of hair
  • Toe and foot sores that do not heal

“Silent PAD”

Many people are affected by PAD yet they do not have symptoms. These individuals are at a high risk for suffering an early heart attack or stroke. Research has proven that the life expectancy for a person with PAD is greatly reduced. For example, the risk of dying from heart disease is six times higher for those with PAD compared to those without. Therefore, it is important to discuss the possibility of PAD with a health care professional if someone has several of the risk factors for PAD.

What are the warning signs or symptoms of PAD?

PAD develops slowly over many years. In the early stages, most people with PAD have no symptoms. Only about one out of three people with PAD actually feel there is something wrong with their feet or legs. By that time, their arteries may be so clogged or hardened that they are not getting enough oxygen to supply their leg muscles. The most common signs of PAD include one or more of these problems:

  • Cramps, tiredness or pain in your legs, thighs or buttocks that always happens when you walk but that goes away when you rest. This is called claudication (pronounced as ‘klo´di-ka´shen’).
  • Foot or toe pain at rest that often disturbs your sleep.
  • Skin wounds or ulcers on your feet or toes that are slow to heal (or that do not heal for 8 to 12 weeks).

Sometimes, people ignore their leg pain and think it is just a sign that they are getting older. As a result, many people with PAD do not know they have it and do not get treatment. It is important to discuss any leg or thigh pain you may be having with your health care provider since it may be a warning sign of a serious disease such as PAD.

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